Assume Love (TM): How to have a happier marriage without waiting for your spouse to change (daisy logo)


More great ideas

October 24, 2019

Why I Write this Blog

It's so good to back online. I was starting to think the blog would never work again. Since the end of January, comments and adding new posts has not worked. After a lot of wrong turns throughout a very busy year, it's great to be back!

I thought I would resume by telling you why I have been writing this blog for 13 years. And it's the same reason I wore an Urban League "Give a Damn" button fifty years ago, when I decided to go study city planning and save the world.

It turns out that the percentage of us who are married and the length of those marriages influences crime, poverty, education, mental health, the environment, the cost of health care, the safety of our children, the productivity of our workers, and the availability of wealth to invest in innovation. In other words, marriage improves our quality of life, and not just the quality of our married lives but the quality of our societal lives. It's important.

I believe in marriage. I also believe in divorce. People need a way out of a bad match, a way without shame and without long waiting periods. But the answer to messy divorces is not to do away with marriage by creating more fluid relationships, more short-term cohabiting, more friends with benefits. Marriage matters.

The answer is to make staying married easier. If you're happily married, you stay married. And we all owe you a debt of gratitude for staying happily married. But if you're like me, you didn't grow up with any role models for a happy marriage. And you did grow up in a society that has gradually stopped viewing staying married as an obligation and started removing some of the impediments to living on your own if you're a woman or a parent.

And that's why I write this blog: to make staying married easier by making it happier and a lot less stressful. For you. Without changing your spouse. Without becoming a better person in hope that this will somehow change your spouse.

Does your husband or wife need improvement?
I'm convinced both of you know how to be wonderful to each other when you choose to. Why else would you have chosen to marry?

Does you two need to get better at communicating?
I'm willing to bet you've already communicated a lot and well, sharing your joy in each other early on. If one or both of you now won't communicate, it's to avoid criticism, not because you don't know how.

Is compromise the answer?
I hope not. Who would agree to less than they need or want on the one condition that the person they love most suffer just as much? That's just crazy.

Your happiness is what matters.
If you're happy about your marriage, your spouse is going to feel more secure in the relationship, more successful as a spouse, and more like the person who showed you so much love and joy when you first fell in love. It probably won't change a thing about how they handle money, dirty socks, or your in-laws, but it will definitely change your relationship.

Unfortunately, our natural instincts are great for dealing with predators but not good ones for a marriage. So, if you imagined being happily married depends on what your spouse does (unless there's violence or psychological torture involved, it generally doesn't) or on your behaving like the good spouses you've watched on TV (it's more likely to build resentment than happiness), figuring out marriage as you go is likely to backfire for you, the same way it did for me. You need tools for turning resentment into accomplishment, disagreement into winning without bullying, and outrage into deeper intimacy or at least calm problem-solving.

And those tools are why I write this blog, so all of us can have happier marriages we don't want to escape from.

January 21, 2019

Feeling Distant? Use Biology to Get Closer Again

The human body is well-designed for two functions much needed in our evolutionary past. The first is self-preservation: fight, flee, or freeze. We could be attacked at almost any moment, and only those who survived passed down their genes. The second is tend and befriend. To survive as a human, our ancestors had to cooperate with other humans to eat, to clothe themselves, to build homes, and to build up a larger body of knowledge than any one of us could keep in our head.

A spouse you feel distant from is a threat to your well-being. Your amygdalae sense this and will rattle your nerves to get your attention. But they won't remind you that you feel distant because your tend-and-befriend instincts have gotten a bit lazy with the one person who vowed to stay close for life.

Get them going again. Put your mirror neurons to work by simply looking into your mate's eyes for a few long minutes. This brings even total strangers closer together, triggering empathy and stimulating the vagus nerve, which both relaxes us and makes most of our organs work a little better.

Don't stare into your spouse's eyes in an unnerving way. Do it over dinner or while you're making love or even while you're chopping the salad together. Just turn to look at your spouse, soften your face, and take a fresh look at those eyes. If your spouse holds your gaze, give it 3 to 5 minutes. You'll feel the difference in your body, maybe even a warming sensation around your heart. But recognize that your spouse may be so surprised by this that it feels a bit weird. If he or she turns away, try again in a day or two. Don't take it as rejection.

Want another way to get those mirror neurons working again? Put on some music and invite your husband or wife to dance with you for a few bars. Use your outstretched hand or a hug to initiate your request.

And other to get a nice kick to your vagus nerve through those mirror neurons is to invite your spouse to tell you about an emotional event and listen intently and inquisitively. After a few minutes, your brains get in sync, and you'll feel the same emotions at the same time. Feels great.

You may need to be ready to drop everything when your spouse walks in the door complaining or unloading difficult news. That's when you know they have a story to tell. It's worth it to set everything else aside and invite a full telling.

Won't hurt if you gaze into his or her eyes during the telling, either.

One more way to close that distance gap: get the oxytocin flowing. Oxytocin makes us more trusting (although not when something shady is going on), and it feels great. Some things that get it flowing: orgasm, stroking the arms, touching, kissing.

If you listen to the explanations people give for their extramarital affairs, except for the ones who like the adrenaline kick of evading detection and the ones who no longer value their marriages, what leads them astray is a craving for touching or someone who listens or the accidental but strong attraction to someone they dance with or who stares into their eyes. You can be that person for your spouse. In fact, you probably vowed to be that person for your spouse.

January 14, 2019

Pursuing Your Dreams and Growing While Married

It's so easy to get caught up in fears that if you pursue spiritual growth, start that business you've always dreamed of, get that graduate degree in your 50s, or take up an adventurous hobby, it will tank your marriage.

Before we start on this great new adventure, we fear obstruction. Once we find our way around the imaginary or real obstacles, we fear growing apart if our spouse doesn't drop everything and join us. If we keep going beyond this, we fear we're growing so much that we'll lose respect or interest for our partners.

Some of us, the ones with great imaginations, can run through all three of these fears in the first hour after we come up with a dream to pursue.

And if we don't pursue the dream, the fear can wreck the marriage much more surely than if we do pursue it.

Don't let it stop you. Pursue your dream. Treat obstruction as caring, and share your joy at going after you dream. Make new friends who share your passion for the real work of your new dream, friends who will drop everything and help, so your marriage won't suffer. And remember to keep asking with an open heart about everything your spouse is mastering while you're mastering this. Make a happy, healthy marriage part of your dream and then go after that dream!

October 13, 2012

Laughing Out Loud (an Odd Request)

Laughter is such a great defense against depression and self-pity. My husband laughs a lot: big, deep, belly laughs at TV shows, jokes on the internet, unexpected sights, or a good pun. I once watched him slide off a sofa onto the floor involuntarily while a friend kept adding to an invented story about a flaming cow, unable to catch his breath or unbend himself because he was laughing so hard.

I absolutely love to watch this. Sometimes, he gets me laughing pretty hard. He's incredibly funny. But usually it's just a titter or a giggle or a grin.

I don't seem to have an easily accessible belly laugh switch. Or at least that's what I believed yesterday. And then I was reminded of mine. I could not catch my breath. When I did, I glanced at my computer screen and started again. And it lifted my spirits. Guess who I couldn't wait to tell? I was grinning a big grin at him the moment he walked in the room.

I am a sucker for typos. Not misspellings, but genuine typos, where the finger hits some other key and types "lover function tests" instead of "liver function tests" or the ear hears what others intend to sound like "Lead On, Oh King Eternal" and it ends up on paper as "Lead On, Oh Kinky Turtle."

I cannot stop myself when I see one of these. I burst out laughing. I can't wait to repeat it, but I can't get it out before the belly laugh begins again. If I close my mouth, my abdomen quivers, my shoulders twitch, and suddenly I hear a snort I don't recognize as my own. I have no idea why. But who cares? It works!

Except for the first five times I read Eats, Shoots and Leaves, moments like reading the already delivered proposal to a key client earnestly promising to "thoroughly profread every document we submit" have been pretty far between. There are often one or two of these in Jay Leno's Headlines segment, but I don't get to see it very often.

And that's why I am making my odd request. We've got some tough months ahead of us, in a new home far from others on the top of a mountain, after several years of piece-of-cake condo living. We know the snow and wind will make some days pretty rough, and our first snow shower was yesterday! The TV will keep my wonderful husband laughing, but I want to find a daily source of belly laughs for myself.

Who better to ask than you? If you know of a daily email with misunderstood titles, a funny typo hashtag on Twitter, someone I should follow on Facebook, or a new book like Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I beg of you to share it. It could strengthen our marriage. How can you resist?

October 10, 2012

The Most Important Appointment of Your Day

Do you have a stress-filled day of calling on clients, seeing them in your office, interviewing job candidates, or running casting calls? Do you look forward to heading home for peace and quiet without any more demands?

Before you go, consider treating this last appointment of the day as the most important one. Take a moment to prepare yourself for it as you prepare for the others. How would you like it to go? What do you need to do to prepare for it to go that way? What attitude on your part will guide it to where you'd like it to go? What is likely to be expected of you?

If it's always hectic, could you make a phone call earlier in the day that would reduce that feeling upon arrival? Or schedule a weekly lunch date with your spouse?

Is there a hand-off, with your spouse or children leaving as you arrive? Could it be made simpler with a calendar or a "things you should know" notebook or pocket-size video camera?

Would it help to meet your mate for drinks and dinner one night a week while a babysitter feeds the kids?

What about a special family tradition that makes your arrival an event? We kids always knew when payday was, because Dad would bring home Chuckles. Remember them? Five large, flat gumdrops in a cellophane pack? Licorice was always in the center, and I always traded mine to my brother for one of the other flavors. Lemon and orange were my favorites, but licorice was his.

When you know what you want, turn it into a pleasant game with your spouse and children. Buy yourself goofy slippers and a bubble pipe for your kids to bring you when they hear the theme song from My Three Sons or The Flintstones playing on your cell phone as you approach the door. Invite your husband to join you.

Or make it a daily ritual to have a 90-second kiss just inside the front door or to do yoga together in silence for 20 minutes right after coming home.

If you're usually too stressed for any of this, park your car two or three blocks from home and get in some walking before you reach the door.

Need to make a pickup at the daycare center or karate class on your way home? Get your kids memorizing poems or songs to practice on the way, while you clear your head. Or clear your head first, with a nightly stop at your favorite book or music store before you get them.

You can do a lot of damage in a few short minutes by ending your day annoyed to see your more important appointment of the day. You can say things you'll regret or miss an opportunity to be supportive or grateful or admiring.

Make your homecoming the most important appointment of your day.

October 6, 2012

How to Be a Great Dad

How to be a great dad? How to have happy, secure, loving kids?

Make their mom feel extremely lucky to know you.

Don't just stay married for your kids. Stay loving.

September 26, 2012

Favorite Date Nights for the Happily Committed

What's your favorite? What sort of morning, afternoon, or evening with your partner in life helps strengthen your bond or increase your desire for each other? What gets you excited to be together again? What makes you happy you chose the person you're with? How do you take the ordinary out of being together for so many years?

September 16, 2012

Daytime Date Nights

Date nights help you stay close, replenish your passion for each other, and grow in the same direction over time. But they don't have to happen after dark.

Some of the best daytime date nights bring you transcendent experiences, the sort where you rise above yourselves, feel your inner selves expanding, sense your spirits lifting.

Take an Introductory Ride at Your Local Flight School
Aerial views of the places you drive and bike around are so different. You'll discover new places, marvel at the influence of nature on your built environment, and most likely get a kick out of overcoming any fear of traveling through the air and its surprising currents and pockets. When the trees are colorful is a great time for such a trip. Most flights schools at small airports around the US offer a $50 first-time introductory flight.

Go Up in a Hot Air Balloon
I have never done this one, but it sounds like one notch up from riding in a small plane. Seems to call for a very special kiss.

Visit the Top of a Canyon or the Bottom of a Cavern
Nature humbles and awes us. It's a great experience to share with your beloved. On the drive there and back, avoid talking about kids, bills, and work. Recall great shared memories. Ask philosophical questions. Talk about whatever has recently fascinated you. Get back in touch with each other as lovers, not financial or parenting partners.

Go Spiritual
Find a place to pray or meditate with thousands of fellow believers. Show up for a sunrise service. Listen to great religious music in a place with terrific acoustics. Or create your own opportunity for a shared spiritual event in a special place.

Give Back
Volunteer together and help others. Whatever you can do, it will remind you of how great your lives are, instead of what's missing from them.

Watch a Broadway Play or Musical
Choose one with a top-notch cast and director who can transport you into a world of their own creation. Check the reviews for one with a great set or scenery for the full experience.

We humans thrive on transcendent experiences. And on love. Enjoy!

August 20, 2012

Hold Onto Happy Times a Little Longer

Whether your marriage is good or bad today, I am sure you can recall times when it was happy. Perhaps on your wedding day or the day you moved into your first house. Maybe you two gave birth to a child with those tiny little fingers gripped around one of yours and a smile you just knew was real because those baby eyes were locked on yours when it happened.

Happiness shows up during vacations, job promotions, or working together to open a store. It might show up the day you pay off the mortgage or send the last child to college or the day the hot tub gets installed.

And then it's gone again. You're still married, you still own the house, you still have a kid to feed, the hot tub still whirls and bubbles on demand, but the happiness has gone flat.

And then, even though you were recently so happy, your marriage seems less exciting, less likely to last, or--worse--already past its expiration date.

This is why it's important to learn how to hold onto happiness. Fortunately, positive psychologists are studying ways to do this. One of my favorite reporters of positive psychology news, success researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson, reported last week on research by Sonia Lyubomirsky and Kennon Sheldon into where happiness goes and how to slow its departure.

They found two ways happiness evaporates and studied what works to slow down each of them.

The first is decreasing positive feelings about a change. My husband and I recently moved to a place with incredible views and gorgeous sunsets. For the first month or new, every day brought a new and different experience of nature's glory. Now, unless a line of wild turkeys struts across the yard or the setting sun lights up the underside of a cloud in pink, I am more likely to notice the Japanese knotweed that needs to come out than the light on the other side of the valley, less likely to wander out onto to back porch behind him and stand there with our arms around each other's shoulders, admiring what we see.

What Sheldon and Lyubomirsky found is that happiness lasts longer when there's more variety in the positive events the change brings with it. I'm watching now for the deer and the birds and the crabapples, and we've set up a table and chairs on another side of the house.

If we were dieting together, I would want more than one measure of our success, like weight, clothing sizes, running speed, blood sugar, and blood pressure. We could even roll a die to pick a different one to measure each week. If we bought new furniture, I might add variety with throw pillows, new arrangements, sitting in different seats, and swapping holding hands for touching toes, curling up together, or stretching out separately.

More variety gives us a longer run of happiness from the same change.

The other way happiness gets away from us is increased aspirations, aka the What Next disease. "I love our new house, but don't you think it deserves new bedroom furniture?" Worse yet, "This house is so much better than our old one; I can't wait for when we can afford something with a guest suite."

The antidote to increased aspirations robbing you two of your happiness is appreciation. As Dr. Halvorson reports:

Appreciating can mean paying attention or noticing, but it is even more powerful when you take it further - when you savor something, delighting in its qualities and relishing how it makes you feel, or when you experience gratitude, a sense of being fortunate for being in your current circumstances compared to others, or compared to where you have been in the past. When we appreciate our positive experiences, when we turn our mind's eye toward them again and again in joy and wonder, we don't just make our happiness last - we kick it up a notch, too.

When the two of you move a sofa or make a meal together, stop to appreciate your teamwork and success before you start anything else. If you can remember being happy to marry your husband or wife, think about why. Then compare what you've got today on those dimensions to what you had before marriage, not to what you had at the peak. Savor it privately, then write a note to your mate expressing your gratitude.

Hang onto your happiness. Add variety to every change if you expect it might bring happiness or if it already did. And use appreciation to prevent increasing aspirations from making you miss out on what you've got.

August 7, 2012

Did I Write That?

I was feeling rather low this morning, so I started reading old posts, looking for inspiration. Instead, I ran into a few nice surprises, posts I had forgotten I wrote, very nice ones. They surprised me and cheered me up. I thought I would share a quote or two from each of them with you. The titles link to the posts, in case they grab you, too.

What Would a Great Marriage Feel Like?

I think a great marriage feels like swing dancing. It's not static and unchanging. It's being pushed away and pulled back with just the right tension in the bonds connecting you...It's challenging at times, joyous at others...If you start dancing your own way, you're likely to stumble or step on your partner's toes. You must lead or follow. When you follow, you listen for cues with every part of your body, then deliver what's asked for, even if it's not what you expected. When you lead, your goal is to make your partner look like a great dancer, even if it means making your cues more obvious, doing a quick shuffle to correct for a misstep, or extending an arm to prevent a run-in your partner cannot see coming.

How to Choose the Perfect Partner

Your perfect partner is not frightened or disgusted by your past or your dreams. You cannot know this, and you cannot find your perfect partner, until you reveal your past and your dreams, ideally after the first date and before the first orgasm, because all that oxytocin will bond you and make it harder to leave if you have found the wrong partner for you.

The Hard Work of Marriage

Loving more is hard work when we feel unloved. When we feel loved, though, it's a joy, almost a compulsion. And when we feel loved, we don't keep score, like we do when it feels like hard work.

From Tiger Woods' Announcement: 48 Words We All Need to Hear

At some point in your marriage, there is a high probability you will reach a point where temptation hits at the exact same moment you feel you have worked hard to make money your spouse takes for granted, worked hard to care for a mate too ill to meet your sexual needs, worked hard to stretch a dollar year after year for a partner who won't even buy you a bunch of flowers on your anniversary.

You just might feel entitled. You might even feel getting what you deserve would reduce the tension in your marriage. And you might run straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by.

If I'm Not the One Thing You Can't Stand to Lose...

Reba McEntire's hit song Consider Me Gone expresses a feeling many of us have experienced in our relationships. "If I'm not the one thing you can't stand to lose...consider me gone." Feeling unimportant to someone we love and want in our life is intolerable. Our natural first impulse is to run.

Earthquakes and Extramarital Affairs

Earthquakes and the discovery of your spouse's extramarital affair have a lot in common...You can live in a place for decades before an earthquake big enough to cause damage occurs. Day after day, even though you know the odds of an earthquake in your lifetime are high, you live your life normally. To do otherwise would keep you tied up in knots.

Burnt Peas

There you are, waiting for your dinner, and suddenly you smell them scorching. Once even one is scorched, it's pretty much too late to rescue them. And now the giant wheel of fortune begins its wild spin. Where will it land for you?

  • I feel so bad for my mate. What an awful, last-minute thing to happen while cooking dinner.
  • Oy! How long will this delay dinner? Will we get to the movie on time? ...
  • I love my mate's creativity! We must be having blackened peas. Should be interesting.

Here's the thing. Even after the wheel of fortune makes its stop, if the thought it lands on does not improve your relationship, you are free to take another spin.

If you found one that spoke to you, too, today, I hope you will leave a comment on it to let me know. I read all of your comments and am grateful for the time you take to add them.

July 13, 2012

Flow and Your Marriage

I never saw it this way before. Maybe you didn't either.

Have you heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research into the state he calls flow? It's a wonderful state, reached by artists as they create, rock climbers as they climb, writers as they write, mothers as they play with their babies, even by wallpaperers as they transform a room.

Jeremy Dean gave a great summary of flow (in under 300 words) in PsyBlog recently. As he describes how we feel when we're in flow, I thought, "That's exactly how I felt as we were falling in love."

Jeremy writes:

"When you're in a flow state:
  • an hour can pass in the blink of an eye,

  • you feel what you are doing is important,

  • you're not self-conscious,

  • action and awareness merges,

  • you feel in full control,

  • and the experience is intrinsically rewarding."

If that fifth one, "in full control" doesn't sound quite right, it refers to your ability to choose your next step, not your ability to dictate the outcome of it. And the rest? Don't they sound like the hours you two spent together once you got past the awkward "getting to know you" phase?

Weren't they wonderful? You probably did not even need words to feel totally in tune with your new person.

If the feeling of falling in love is a series of flow states, is it possible that the difference between couples who long to return to the falling-in-love stage and the ones who still feel "in love" with each other twenty years later has to do with finding other ways to join each other in flow?

The four ingredients for creating flow have been well researched. Flow happens when you are internally motivated (expecting no reward beyond the fun of the task), stretching almost to the limits of your skills (but not so far that you get anxious), with short-term goals (like getting from one rock to the next or returning each ball as it comes your way) and immediate feedback on your progress toward them (like solid contact on the next rock or a slip of the foot).

How do they apply in a marriage or lifelong relationship?

Think of your sex life. Sex between life partners usually meets the flow criterion of being done for its own sake. And short-term goals? Arousal and orgasm definitely count. But the other two may make the difference between sex in flow and ordinary sex. Are you providing your partner with immediate feedback? And do you keep stretching your skills almost to the limit, or are you phoning it in?

When you cook together, do you choose tasks that will stretch each of you almost to your limits? Do you each have clear, short-term goals? Are you doing it (at least some of the time) for its own reward rather than out of obligation to feed your family?

When you get out for some exercise on your bikes, skates, or windsurfers, is one of you pulling the other past their current ability into the anxiety zone? That's going to kill flow. Do you have goals you can meet every few minutes or every hour, like getting up this hill or tacking at the best moment to keep up your speed? Can you tell from moment to moment how close you are to achieving these goals, or do you need to choose ones easier to evaluate?

Do you have flow-inducing hobbies you can do side-by-side, like writing while your partner paints or drawing while your partner fishes? Could you seek out new ones, like learning to dance together or starting a garden?

When your spouse is in flow, totally involved in some activity and unaware of time flying by, do you interrupt or do you start something within eye-catching distance that will take you to the same delicious place? When you are in flow, just catching a glimpse of your loved one's face, also in flow, can be heart-melting.

And since you are reading this and obviously have an interest in becoming better at relationship skills, have you tried finding flow when you use them? Could you find yourself totally absorbed in trying to guide a conversation away from a battle no one wins and into a Third Alternative? Could you be so present in your coming-home encounters that you get five minutes of flow from them?

So, am I onto something? Is there a connection between feeling "in love" and being in flow? I would love to hear what you think.

July 4, 2012

Significant Other

Happy Fourth of July!!

Folks in the US celebrate Independence Day today. This has me thinking about the phrase "significant other." Give me a moment to make the connection.

Independence is a big deal here, and we're well into yet another upswing in its importance. Americans do not like to be told what to do.

In World War II, most folks gave up a whole bunch of personal independence to secure their collective independence. Today, though, personal independence is on an upswing. The internet (an incredibly interdependent bit of infrastructure) has given us all more opportunities to assert our independence.

Managers are advised to give a lot more autonomy to their employees or lose the best ones. People in droves are seeking self-employment, risking (and in most cases losing) large chunks of their previous incomes. And it is not just the ones made suddenly independent by an employer who could no longer afford their services.

The more we seek independence, the more we resent obligation. Even our commitments chafe against our independent streaks and threaten our ability to do as we please.

And this is how we arrive at significant others: our husbands, wives, and life partners. What makes them significant? Is it what they can do for us? Or is it what we are willing to obligate or commit ourselves to do for them, harnessing our independence in service to something bigger than ourselves to create soul-satisfying meaning?

June 4, 2012

The Strength of Strengths

I have done a lot of work with positive psychologists, devising ways to use the internet to collect their data or teach what they've discovered. One of the most fascinating aspects of this work for me has been the study of character strengths.

I see them at work in my marriage and in other folks' relationships all the time. An example of a character strength is a sense of humor and playfulness. Those who possess an abundance of this strength, including my husband, are wonderful to be around. They can help us transcend our fears or pains.

For those blessed with a lot of this strength, finding the humor in a situation or turning a chore into a game comes easily and feels right.

But the same is true of the other strengths. Modesty feels right and comes easily to some folks. They deflect praise, disguise their physical beauty, defer to those with greater age or authority because they cannot imagine doing anything less. It feels right and good to be humble and modest.

It is a pleasure to be around the very modest, too. They seek no praise from us. They don't compete for attention.

If you see the strength of modesty or humor in your spouse, or perhaps the strengths of social intelligence, fairness, leadership, love of learning, persistence, or curiosity, you know what a joy it can be to benefit from a strength by proxy.

What you might not see is what happens in a clash of strengths. Your own greatest strengths are irresistible. You must use them, and you are happiest when you use them. If you excel at modesty, your mate's humor and playfulness may be delicious, right up until it attracts undue attention or makes you feel overexposed.

Your mate's generosity and many kindnesses may thrill you right up until they interfere with your overwhelming urge to keep things fair and just.

Or your mate's integrity may knock your socks off most of the time but really rankle when your strength of forgiveness urges you to overlook a white lie from a loved one.

In the moment, exercising our own strength, we may feel like anyone not joining us lacks our degree of virtue. Just being aware of our different strengths lets me see two virtues clashing. It gives me a chance to look beyond my own strength and ask how I might be an even better (and happier) person with both our strengths at my disposal.

May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

Want to be the best sort of dad? Show your children how to feel and express their gratitude on this special day. Gratitude is the one proven way to exceed their happiness set-point. And pointing out their mother's best points is a sure way to increase their security in this world and their ability to find love as adults. Be an enthusiastic supporter of your wife or ex-wife today and every day, no matter what issues you might have with her less than stellar points.

May 3, 2012

Wow! Better Communication with Your Husband or Wife

I use Twitter a lot. Because I use it to reach out to strangers looking to enjoy being married, I track the numbers on any tweet with a link in it. I use to let me know every time anyone clicks on a link in my tweets. These show up in a list of tweets, clicks, and clicks on other folks' links to the same blog post or useful resource.

Over time, I have learned to speak the language of Twitter, to say things not the way I would want to hear them but the way others pay attention.

I cannot say to all those people, "We need to talk." I cannot say, "You never listen." These sound too much like, "Bad dog!" and they get me less attention, not more.

There is no Bitly for marriages, but I try to do my own counts. If you want to do this, too, just pay attention to how you ask for help, express your preferences, or share information. Then keep mental note of which ones work better with the person you are committed to spending your life with.

Do you get more smiles, more kisses, more help when you start a request with "While you are out, do you think you could..." or with "I need more ____; will you be able to get some for me while you're out?" or "We need more ____; get some if you can while you're out."

Do your attempts to initiate sex work best when they start with a compliment, a fond memory, a racy fantasy, or a command?

You won't find the answers in any book, because you did not marry the average guy or gal. The only answers that matter are the ones about this one man or woman. And it's easy to change the way you open conversations when you can see for yourself what works best right there in your own marriage.

By the way, the one word guaranteed to increase the attention folks on Twitter pay to my words is "Wow!" But it works only when I use it sparingly. Leave me a comment if it got your attention today.

April 25, 2012

Date Night and Love Languages

Dating after you're married is healthy and fun, as long as you're dating the person you married! If you know your mate's love language, you can make sure your date nights increase the love he or she feels from you.

  • Words of Affirmation - Start with a compliment on his or her appearance as you head out for your date. Write about your love on the paper tablecloth over dinner. Express gratitude for a character strength your spouse exhibits during the evening. If you head to a movie or a concert, include a stop for coffee or dessert, where you can share a few affirming words.
  • Quality Time - Make it clear in advance how important the time together is to you. Be ready on time. And be totally present, delegating your concerns your work or the wellbeing of your children to someone else for a few hours. Choose activities where you can interact or share a transcendent moment or belly laugh hand-in-hand.
  • Receiving Gifts - Pay for dinner or any entertainment. Keep your eye open for souvenirs of your date and present them during the date or right before bed. Consider window shopping, museums, state fairs, and other explorations of interesting and well-presented items.
  • Acts of Service - Be helpful. Offer to fetch the car if it's raining or to carry something for your spouse. Consider dates where the two of you get to help others, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, a local school or hospital, or a group serving the homeless or shut-ins.
  • Physical Touch - Go dancing. Take a massage class. Turn a candlelit dinner into foreplay. Hold hands or put an arm around your sweetie while you wait in line for souvlaki at the Greek Festival or a ride at an amusement park.

Marriage is not just about putting food on the table and turning a house into a home. It is about connecting with another human being on as many levels as you can. Create some new special memories by using love languages when you plan your next date night.

April 7, 2012

Date Night and Your Love Language

I'm guessing you have read Gary Chapman's mega-bestseller, The Five Love Languages, by now. If not, hurry over to your nearest library or log into the Kindle Store today.

Knowing these five languages of love (gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time) will help you appreciate more of the love you're being given and ask for what you need from your husband or wife. They can also help you make your date nights even more fun.

Ed and I had a great daytime date night this week. Lunch at Jules Thin Crust Pizza (mine was Greek Salad Pizza, my current favorite) and a matinee showing of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at the County Theater, plus a great walk on a beautiful spring day through this wonderful town we live in. Perfect!

We fit in a bunch of love languages: quality time together, physical touch (we were holding hands or snuggled together except while eating our pizza), gifts (we bought lunch and the movie tickets for each other), and even an act of service when he moved the car after we discovered I had parked it in a tow away zone. To wrap up a perfect package, he complimented me on my movie choice (he's our movie buff and usually makes the picks).

Of course, you don't need all five to make a great date night. You need the one or two that matter most to the two of you. Pair a gift (maybe a new water bottle in his favorite color) with some quality time together on a hike. Open the door for her (an act of service) or let him know how proud you are (words of affirmation) of his career when you go out to dinner. Leave your smart phone and worries at home (for quality time) or bring a bunch of flowers (a gift) while you go sailing.

There are so many ways to weave love languages into your post-wedding dating. Reserve a room at a B&B for some physical touch for yourself, and start the evening with a love letter (words of affirmation) for your beloved. Team up for an evening of acts of service for others (Habitat for Humanity, your local soup kitchen, hospital volunteers) and do something special for each other to get ready (wash and wax the car, wash his favorite jeans, bring home a quick and easy meal, hire the babysitter).

Use the comments section to share with us your own date night ideas that use Gary Chapman's five love languages. Your idea may save someone else's marriage.

March 28, 2012

Ten of My Favorite Assume Love Posts

I have been writing Assume Love for a little more than six years now. That is a lot of blog posts. In case you missed them, these are some of the ones I am proudest of.

Earthquakes and Extramarital Affairs - Trusting the person you married, dealing with an affair if one happens (March 2011)

Four Steps to Assume Love - One incredibly powerful technique for anyone who wants a happier marriage (February 2006)

Change or Lose Your Spouse - Dr. Phil and I disagree again (April 2011)

All You Need is Love - Getting clear on what you really need from your spouse (February 2006)

Scheduling Spontaneity - If you're both busy, date night helps, but you can have spontaneity, too (October 2006)

Big, Hairy Problems - What to do when big, hairy problems sneak up on the two of you (February 2010)

Backsliding - Dealing with the fear that improvements in your marriage are only temporary (May 2007)

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money - No point turning a money issue into a marriage mess (December 2008)

Regaining Your Wife's Respect - Men and women see respect differently (March 2012)

The Difference Between a Disagreement and a Fight - You might even learn to enjoy disagreements (June 2011)

Which is your favorite?

March 16, 2012

Completely Off Topic: Basketball

I don't often watch basketball. Neither does my husband. But my alma mater is in the NCAA Division III Final Four tonight. I think it's worth noting.

It's the first time in the Final Four in the team's 112-year history. MIT's Engineers entered tonight's game with a 13-game winning streak. Two more will win them the championship.

They are tied at the half. I don't care a lot about basketball, but I really care about proof that it's possible to be more than a geek. I care because I am driven now to help people, including you, enjoy being married.

Wishing the team luck in the second half and in all their years after MIT.

February 16, 2012

Asking for What You Need? Go with the Oreo

There are three ways to ask for what you need from your husband or wife.

The first is the plain vanilla wafer approach. "It drives me nuts to open the kitchen cabinets and see that mess in there. Will you please clean them today?"

The second in the chocolate chunk granola with cranberries and macadamias approach. Who knows which part of the request to pay attention to? "My parents are coming next week, and the grass is so long that there are toys hiding out there and no one would want to sit on that patio, but there's not enough room to sit in the dining room because of your book-sorting project."

The method that works best is the Oreo approach. Start with something positive, make a related request, and end with some more of the good stuff. Here are two examples.

"You keep the kitchen counters so clean and orderly. I would love it if you could keep the spices inside the cabinets this clean and neat, too. I know some people don't care about stuff like this, but I am crazy proud of the way our kitchen looks when the cabinets are closed."
"Think my parents will notice what a great job you did on painting the back of the house? Do you have time to mow the grass before they come tomorrow? That would make it look even better, and then we can eat out on the patio and won't need to empty the dining room."

When your request is the creamy filling in the middle of the cookie, it confirms you appreciate your spouse's best qualities and hard work and would like more of his or her best.

"We have survived so much together, mostly thanks to your incredible ability to see a better future no matter how bad or final the present moment might look. Will you help me avoid sinking into depression over our current financial problems? I trust your visions even when I cannot yet believe them, and they help."
"You really look so sexy tonight with your hair like that. Would you like to try something new? I want you so much right now, and I think you will really like this."
"I can't forget how great it felt to have your support when I went back to school and go my degree. I would really like to write a book this year. Will you be my champion, my cheerleader, my shoulder to cry on one more time?"
"Will you please put on that super hero cape of yours and whisk this trash out to the curb before the truck gets here, while I stand here admiring how great your butt looks since you got back into bicycling?"

Almost everybody loves Oreos.

February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day is Special at Assume Love

wideheart.pngValentine's Day has had a new and special meaning for me since 2006. It's the day I launched this blog and began offering hope of a happier marriage to anyone who wants it.

Today is our sixth anniversary together. Thanks for a great time and for all your marvelous stories of success at remaking your marriages.

It's also Valentine's Day, so I think that's all I will say for today. Find a way to feel your mate's love today. I will be doing the same.

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 13, 2012

3 Things I Learned From My Husband

One of the most delicious things about being a wife is learning from spending so much time with someone whose strengths are different from mine. Here are three I have learned from my second husband, Ed:

  1. In just 48 hours, the tomorrow I'm busy fearing today will be the yesterday I have no time to think about.
  2. Multitasking is much less sexy and joy-producing than being focused on one thing, one person, one idea at a time.
  3. Laughing silently is not nearly as healthy for me as laughing out loud.

What have you learned from your life partner?

February 1, 2012

May I Ask for a Bit of Help?

I could use your help with a problem I have. I need to find someone to rent my timeshare week in Virginia Beach from August 18 through 25, 2012. I always love this week, but this year it conflicts with a family gathering elsewhere.

It's between Atlantic Avenue and the boardwalk, with large windows and a balcony facing the ocean. It includes a bedroom with a big, comfortable, king size bed, a living room with a sleeper sofa, and a fully equipped kitchen with a work island and a full-sized refrigerator. It's within walking distance of free concerts, boating, fishing, parasailing, and lots of restaurants. It includes an indoor pool, spa tub, exercise room, maid service, wifi, and free parking for one car. At $1,300, it saves a bunch off hotel prices in the same place, and the timeshare suites are nicer.

Do you know how to reach me for more info if you or a trusted friend might be interested? My email address is patty [at] Or you can use the Enjoy Being Married contact form.

Thanks for allowing me this brief interruption. I hope you received my February Enjoy Being Married newsletter today. If not, you can get it immediately by adding your name to the Enjoy Being Married mailing list.

January 27, 2012

EITC Awareness Day

Today is Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day. The IRS estimates that between a fifth and a quarter of those eligible for it fail to claim it. This year, with many couples struggling in ways they have not in the past, the Administration for Children and Families has made an effort to get the word out.

From their press release:

Are you eligible to claim EITC for 2011 taxes?

  • Must have earned income in 2011
  • Must have a valid Social Security number
  • Investment income limited to $3,150
  • Generally, must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year
  • Cannot use "married filing separate" filing status
  • Cannot be a qualifying child of another person
  • Cannot file Form 2555 or 2555-EZ (related to foreign earned income)

If you meet these rules, your earned income must also be less than...

  • $13,660 ($18,740 if married filing jointly) with no qualifying children
  • $36,052 ($41,132 if married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
  • $40,964 ($46,044 if married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
  • $43,998 ($49,078 if married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children

You could be Eligible to Receive an EITC up to:

  • $464 with no qualifying children
  • $3,094 one qualifying child
  • $5,112 two qualifying children
  • $5,751 three qualifying children

Do you want help figuring out the EITC?

  • Use the interactive EITC Assistant at to show you if you qualify
  • Call the IRS toll free at 1-800-TAX-1040
  • Visit a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site for FREE help and tax preparation, or see your tax preparer. To find the nearest site call: 1-800-906-9887

January 26, 2012

What Will You Accomplish Next?

The model for flourishing as a person includes five elements, according to the Father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman:

  • Positive emotions

  • Engagement

  • Relationships

  • Meaning and purpose

  • Accomplishments

The last part of PERMA is Accomplishments. The road to accomplishment is what researcher Angela Duckworth calls Grit. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of Succeed, offers some excellent advice on accomplishments:
"Don't visualize success. Visualize the steps you will take to succeed."

If your marriage is rocky right now, you may find your attention and efforts mistakenly centered on fixing your spouse. It is very difficult to fix someone, and his or her spouse is the worst person to do it. All of your attention to this fool's errand will keep you from accomplishing something remarkable and within your reach, like writing a book, learning a new skill, or launching a business.

Go for the accomplishment first. Think of it as putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting your spouse. It gives both of you your best shot at a happy marriage.

January 25, 2012

Meaning Matters

Continuing with Martin Seligman's take on positive psychology, we come to the fourth element in PERMA, meaning and purpose.

This is defined as being part of something bigger than oneself, something that will outlast you, something that affects more than just you. It is nice to share this with your spouse, but it is not necessary. You can pursue your own connections to something meaningful, knowing it is likely to add to your enjoyment of life.

For me, being part of the marriage education movement matters. I get great satisfaction from writing this blog and giving my Enjoy Being Married teleclasses.

Others get this from being part of a religious fellowship, volunteering to improve a school, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, campaigning for a politician with world-changing ideas, volunteering to rescue animals, or being an active part of a Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Others keep it closer to home and find meaning in raising children and providing them the best possible home.

Not sure where to find more meaning? Just watch for your biggest responses to upsetting news stories. If you cannot find a group working to help these folks, ask a librarian, use your search engine, or put #IdeaParty in a tweet on Twitter asking for ideas of where to find one.

When your mate is depressed or stressed or just disengaged, you still need meaning in your life. Do not lay the blame for not finding yours on your spouse's shoulders. Filling your life with meaning is important to flourishing, and your flourishing matters to the strength of your marriage.

January 24, 2012

Why You Need a Relationship or Two on the Side

Continuing our series on PERMA, Martin Seligman's model for flourishing, we look at Relationships, the third of the five sources of well-being: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment.

We need relationships. We crave them. When they go wrong, we swear we do not need them and will be better off without them. Yet most people who divorce will marry again. And most of us will spend a lifetime seeking or nurturing relationships with friends, children, parents, siblings, and that one special other person we want to share our lives with.

One of the ways to nurture this primary relationship is to take some of the strain off it by building other relationships. Here I do not mean competing relationships, the stuff of sexual affairs and emotional infidelity. Those are unhealthy relationships. We play act in them, using our violated marriage pledge as an excuse to withhold or exit at our convenience.

I mean friendships with people who have no claim on or interest in the parts of our lives pledged to our spouses. I mean cultivating friendships with those who love the literary discussions or tennis games you adore but your wife or husband does not. I mean the friends who appreciate being asked to advise you on things your spouse will not, so that he or she can remain your chief cheerleader.

When you get some of your needs met outside the marriage, it frees you to better appreciate all the rest that your spouse does for you. At the same time, it creates a life with more and stronger relationships, which is one of the main hallmarks of a happy person.

January 23, 2012

The Engaged Life, after You Marry

As I mentioned yesterday, I would like to look at the latest model of human flourishing, PERMA, and what it means for how we can enjoy being married. According to Martin Seligman, wellbeing stems from five sources: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment (PERMA).

Yesterday, we looked at how to get more Positive emotion into our lives when our spouse cannot or will not do things with us, give us that massage or hug we crave, or say the words we long to hear.

Today, I want to focus on Engagement. This marvelous bit of flourishing has another name. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi gave it the name Flow, that wonderful state of being where you are so intensely involved in something that you could not even say if you are happy or unhappy. When you are done, though, you know you enjoyed yourself, even in spite of any pain or danger involved.

Rock climbing, sailing, and white water rafting are great examples of flow-inducing activities. So are painting, sculpting, making music, and acting. Good sex leads to flow. So can cooking or dancing or solving a puzzle.

Nine things make an activity more likely to put us into flow:

  1. At every step, our next goal is clear
  2. Each action results in immediate feedback
  3. The task calls for a slight stretch, just a tiny bit more skill than we currently possess, but not a lot more
  4. We become aware of nothing beyond our current action
  5. We cannot notice distractions
  6. Failure, while possible, does not occupy our thoughts
  7. Self-consciousness slips away
  8. We easily lose track of time and find ourselves surprised when we stop how much has gone by
  9. Over time, we come to engage in the activity for its own sake, rather than what it will gain us

Our recent discussion of online games comes to mind here. Many people go into flow while playing them. To a spouse who wants to engage them, the total involvement, the time that slips away, the loss of self-consciousness, and the inability to notice distractions may all come across as rejection.

When you choose your own flow activities, you might want to be sensitive to this. Choose the time and place accordingly. And don't expect your life partner to understand that you are oblivious to your rock climbing or sculpting partner, too. Avoid engaging in your flow activities with someone that will set off jealousy.

If you have no flow-inducing hobbies, start looking. Pay attention to times when you find yourself emerging from flow. One that most people recognize is the end of a long-distance drive, when you cannot remember the landmarks along the way and wonder how you made it home like that. Pay attention to those little urges to master a new skill. Learning a skill can often put you into flow.

Still stuck? Check out your Signature Character Strengths through the VIA Strengths Survey at Using them in new ways tends to result in flow.

If you share a strength with your distant husband or wife, it might be a great choice. As you experience the benefits of frequent engagement, he or she may be tempted to join you.

If not, remember you can increase your engagement in sex, too. If your environment offers too many distractions to block out, work on removing them. If your schedule conflicts with losing track of time, change your schedule. Stretch just beyond your current skill level in pursuit of greater pleasure for yourself or your mate. Become more aware of short-term goals and not just your end goal. Sex is a great place for shared flow.

January 22, 2012

Strengthen Your Marriage with a Video?

Positive psychology researchers continue to study what we can do to lead more enjoyable lives. Martin Seligman tells us we flourish by adding Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment (PERMA) to our lives.

I would like to look at these to learn how we can enjoy being married over the next few days.

Positive emotion comes from remembering our past, enjoying our present, and looking forward to our future. Philip Zimbardo tells us research reveals an optimal mix of these: a moderate amount of time seeking physical or mental pleasures in the present, a bit more looking forward to a positive future, and even more reliving the happiest parts of our past.

If you are currently striking out on enjoying the present with your husband or wife, thanks to his or her depression or work stress, what can you do? You probably already figured out one option. You can find others to have a good time with. Having a good time makes us a lot more approachable when our mate has a spare moment.

Zimbardo gives us another, one that holds us close to the person we married. We can relive special moments from our past or picture those in our future. Bring out the scrapbooks and photo albums or create a new keepsake: a printed book, a blog, or a video collage. The act of making it will improve your wellbeing and very likely strengthen your marriage bond. Some day, it may also become a treasured memento for your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

January 15, 2012

"Why am I Just Finding This Great Blog?"

2011 Hot Marriage Blog Award Ā© Liufu Yu | Dreamstime.comWe're sporting another award today, this one a 2011 Hot Marriage Blog Award from The Generous Husband, a marriage blog with lots of good stuff for husbands. As you might guess, the author is married to the author of The Generous Wife. Together, Paul and Lori also write The Marriage Bed, with sex and intimacy tips for married Christians.

Paul writes:

Why Am I Just Finding this Great Blog Award: Assume Love

This is far from a new blog, but I only found it recently. Patty's first post (Feb 2006!) says "When you Assume Love, you give yourself the chance to receive more love by looking beyond your instantaneous, gut-level reactions to events. You pay attention to what you know to be true. You stop yourself from jumping to conclusions. You do this for you, so that you don't miss any love being offered to you." I've been reading bits of her story and her blog, and am looking forward to sharing it here in the future.

I hope you will check out Paul and Lori's blogs, as well as the others that won 2011 Hot Marriage Blog Awards.

Paul, thank you for swelling my head and, even more, for honoring the many people whose visits to this site or opened emails and RSS feeds from here tell me month after month that I should keep writing about this stuff.

January 6, 2012

What Would You Do for a KlondikeĀ® Bar?

I love that jingle: "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"

As kids, we did all sorts of crazy things for the smallest of prizes. Better yet, we challenged each other to do things for a prize.

Play is how children build the skills they need to survive life's scarier moments. Play feels like fun to make sure they will engage in it.

As a couple, we need to play together, too. It builds the cooperation skills we need to become so much stronger together than separately when we need strength.

What's your Klondike bar? What prize will you play for? Tell your mate. Then challenge him or her to try something new for a Klondike bar. Play matters at every age.

January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I want to take a moment today to thank you for reading Assume Love. It has been a great year, with a big increase in the number of posts per month and another Top Ten award from Stupendous Marriage.

Wishing you and your marriage a wonderful 2012, full of shared moments, intimate communication, and gratitude for all the love you receive.

Lots of love,
Patty Newbold

December 31, 2011

The "Get Over Yourself" Award

Grow Your Marriage Award 2011 from The Generous WifeLori, who writes the marvelous blog called The Generous Wife, has given Assume Love one of her 2011 Grow Your Marriage Awards, specifically this one:

For Reminding Us All to "Get Over Yourself" ~ this blog regularly challenges me, it's a very good mirror.

Handsome little badge, don't you think? And a great reminder to me to get over myself in my marriage.

If you are a fan of Assume Love, I hope you will join me in thanking Lori on her blog.

December 28, 2011

Subscribe to Assume Love by Email

At the suggestion of a wonderful, caring reader, I added a new link to Assume Love this past weekend. Now you can receive Assume Love by email.

Remember to watch for the confirmation email. If it shows up in your Junk folder, mark it as from an address you want to receive email from. Then be sure to click on the confirmation link in the email, so we know it was really you who entered your email address in the form. Your free subscription begins immediately.

If you have other suggestions for improving Assume Love, please let me know.

December 26, 2011

New Year's Resolutions and How to Tackle Them

Want to be a better person or have a better marriage in 2012? Some fascinating research may help you succeed. It sounds too simple to be true, but several studies have come to this same conclusion: it works!

Think about what usually gets in the way of what you resolve to do. Now write down some very specific if-then solutions to these distractions. For example,

  • If we have not had sex for four days running, then at noon I will start preparing myself to feel, look, smell, and act sexy tonight.

  • If my husband encourages me to eat something that will sabotage my weight loss plans, then I will say to him, "I appreciate your efforts to increase my enjoyment, and tonight I want to enjoy it vicariously, so please make it sound yummy as you eat it."

  • If I feel myself getting upset by my wife's harsh words, then I will Assume Love right away and see if there might be a loving explanation for them that will let them roll right off me.

  • When I pass the VFW hall on my way home, then I will begin thinking of ways to make a positive, upbeat, loving entrance when I get home, instead of crashing first.

For more on how to use if-then planning, see these two articles by Heidi Grant Halvorson:
Want a Simple Way to Double or Triple Your Own Productivity? Here's How.
Be Careful What You Plan For

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas and Thank You!

I know some of you are celebrating Christmas today (me, too!) and some of you are not. I am so grateful for every single one of you, whatever you are doing with this day. Thank you for reading what I have to say about marriage. Thank you for giving me the chance to just maybe bring some extra depth or delight to your marriage.

No snow this year, just a cold, sunny day. Like yesterday, when I spent three hours in the car singing along with radio Christmas carols (thanks, Philly's 92.5 XTU and NJ 101.5!). Join in if Jingle Bells is your thing, too.

I was on my way to the cemetery where husband #1 is buried and back home again to dinner with husband #2, renewed by the reminder of all I promised myself 25 years ago.

There is no time for resentment, no time to waste trying to change someone when we could be loving who they are and receiving all they have to offer us.

Merry Christmas and Happy Rest of Your Marriage!

December 19, 2011

Christmas Traditions

It's not a Christmas tradition, not a Chanukah tradition, if you are the only one looking forward to it. Why not retire the worn out ones this year and try something new?

If everyone looks forward to the new one next December, keep it. If not, keep experimenting.

The great traditions are the ones that build excitement in advance and memories to savor after the holiday has passed, and there is no way to predict which ones will have meaning for you and yours.

December 16, 2011

For the 51% of US Adults Who Are Married

The news media love to declare the end of marriage. Yes, lots more of the over-18 crowd were married back in 1970. Now it is 51% (counting only opposite-sex marriages, per the federal definition of marriage).

Should you feel less in the mainstream if you are married? Hardly.

Thirty seven percent of Americans over the age of 18 have been married to the same person for at least the last 10 years. Another fourteen percent married within the past ten years and remain married.

Who is not married? The young.

Three times as many of the over-18 crowd are in college now as in 1970. The result? Now, instead of 42% of first-time brides marrying before their 20th birthday, only 7% do. This is good, because the under-20 marriages were less stable. Women marry about six years later now, and men have always married later than women, but we still use the 18-and-up or sometimes 15-and-up population to divide by.

Who else is not married? Those who outlive their spouses.

For every 10 marriages that end in divorce each year now, 12 end as promised, leaving behind a widow or widower.

Is marriage finished? Not yet.

Three out of every ten new marriages are second, third, or greater marriages, suggesting a lot of those who divorce or outlive their partners still have confidence in marriage.

I do, too.

Data Source:

December 12, 2011

3 Ways Your Marriage is Like a Pepper Mill

I had this odd idea last night about marriages and pepper mills. Here are three ways your marriage is like a pepper mill:

  1. It is always there, easy to take for granted. Our pepper mill sits right next to our salt shaker on our table. We forget how valuable it is. Pepper is so valuable that it spurred development of the Silk Road and world exploration in the late 1400s. It could be used for ransom or as collateral in Europe. We expect our pepper mill and our marriage will always be there when we need them. Either could vanish today. Appreciate them while you can.

  2. It adds something to almost everything. We grab for the pepper mill all the time, adding flavor whenever we need it, hardly noticing why people risked their lives to get this stuff. We share chores, back each other up on making an income and raising children. We drive each other to and from the emergency room. We buy homes together. We have sex when we want it and vacation together, adding something to so many different aspects of our lives.

  3. It is simple to operate, but it takes a bit of effort. To get the pepper, you need to turn the crank. A happy marriage is not difficult to achieve, but if you rely on your initial loving feelings to make it work, nothing happens. You have to turn the crank.

December 7, 2011

5 Ways to Enjoy Being Married on a Dreary Day

I am looking out my window at a dreary day. The rain has stopped for a bit, but the sun is still hiding. More rain, with flash flood warnings, will arrive very soon.
It is easy to feel sad right now. It is also easy to feel warmly loved. And it is my choice. Here are five ways I (and you, if you choose) can switch moods on a day without sunshine.

  1. See the good behind the bad. Dreary days are less frequent here than where I last lived. And the only reason I moved here, the only reason I know Doylestown exists, is because I fell in love with this man I am married to. All those extra gorgeous days I owe to his love for me.

  2. Count those blessings. Yesterday, my husband saved me a lot of time with one quick answer to a technical question. When I described a second, bigger problem, he put it on his reminders list to look online for possible solutions today. And when I woke up this morning, there was a freshly baked biscuit awaiting me.

  3. Look for love. I stopped typing and touched his arm when he entered the office, and he took my hand. I stopped to enjoy it for a bit. Then he kissed my head and was gone.

  4. Pay closer attention to seemingly irrelevant clues. I received a nice discount coupon by email from a restaurant in town. I printed it, and it is sitting on my desk. It is a buy one entree get another free coupon. This made me think how nice it has been, for almost 15 years now, to have someone to dine with.

  5. Do a Flashback. When we first got together, dining together was such a treat. He would take me to some wonderful restaurant, review the menu, then look into my eyes, hold both hands and tap his foot on the floor like a dog getting his belly scratched while smiling ear to ear. I loved this (still do, when he does it). However, back then we also needed a journal on the coffee table in which to record anything we agreed on, just to disperse the fear that we would always disagree on everything. We have come so far since then, and recalling the journey we have shared fills my heart with real warmth on this dreary day.

December 5, 2011

Top Ten Again!!

Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2011A thousand thank yous to all who read this blog and especially to all who voted. We placed #4 this year in the Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2011 competition. We placed ahead of some pretty incredible blogs, thanks to you!

Special thanks to Susan R, Cherie Travis, 365 Acts of Love, Barbara Sher, Andrea Reese, and Kimberly Stewart, who all left comments to let me know they voted.

If you have not done so yet, please go check out the other blogs. We all write about different things from different angles. There is so much to learn from all 48 nominees and especially the Top Ten.

November 26, 2011

Did Thanksgiving Leave You Happier?

Positive psychology researchers have shown that feeling and expressing gratitude are two sure ways to feel happier. If you got too tied up in food preparation, cleanup, or family squabbles to do much Thanksgiving on Thursday, you still have two days left before you head back to work on Monday. What about your spouse and your relationship do you give thanks for?

November 25, 2011

I Have a Favor to Ask

Top-Ten-Marriage-Blog-2011.pngIf you have a moment between now and Sunday, December 4th, please visit the Stupendous Marriage website and vote for this blog as your favorite during 2011.

The form is below the list of finalists. You must provide your email address, select your favorite from the drop-down list, and use the Send button to send your vote to Stu Gray. The ten annual winners are always widely shared with marriage educators around the US and the world.

You get just one vote, despite all the wonderful blogs in the list of finalists. I hope you will cast it for Assume Love.

And then go check out the other 47 finalists. You might discover some great new sources of support for 2012.

November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you, your partner in life, and your extended family a Thanksgiving full of fun, gratitude, and food.

November 19, 2011

How Will You Celebrate Your 50th Anniversary?

Have you thought about this? How will you celebrate your 50th anniversary?

Because you will want it to be in a way that truly reflects who you are and who you became in each other's embrace.

And if you have a clue now what will endure, think what a great time you could have if you weave it into every single year of your marriage.

Who will you include in your 50th anniversary celebration? Will there be music? Dancing? A favorite food or drink? Will there be adventure? Or laughter? Or the beauty of nature?

Will your celebration be frugal or posh? Serene or wild? And what will you wear, assuming it's still legal, of course?

My first husband and I were planning ours when it suddenly occurred to us we had to get married first. As I'm sure you know, he passed away in 1986, but the plan was for May 2023 in whatever was the best amusement park in the US at the time. We hoped we would both still be able to enjoy a Wild Mouse ride, but we would settle for sharing a Ferris Wheel with our many guests.

I married again at age 50, so I may not ever see a 50th anniversary, but I hope you will post your plan for yours in the Comments.

November 16, 2011

Inexpensive but Fun Date Nights

Taking time to renew your relationship with each other makes it easier to remember why you married. Working Mother magazine asked me to suggest a few fun nights out for December, when many budgets are tight.

The December issue is on newsstands now, and the article is online. I would sure appreciate a Facebook Like or a Twitter tweet if you like any of the suggestions I gave them. Buttons for both are right in the online version of the article.

Other date nights that need not cost much:

  • Pack some fresh, crusty bread, some cheese, and a container of soup and head out for some ice skating together. Lots of endorphins from the exercise, plus a romantic meal.

  • Invite two or three couples who knew you while you were dating and have a pot luck dinner together. Send all the kids to one house with a babysitter while you gather at another. Remember the good times together. But no gripes or parent talk.

  • Live near a city with a real downtown? Go see the holiday decorations together. To add some playfulness, make up bingo cards before you go with the words or designs you expect to find. Winner gets to kiss the loser in front of the next shop with a W in its name.

  • If you have house guests coming for the holidays, make a plan in advance for a mini-getaway for the two of you. Right in the middle of it all, take off for a coffee shop and order something very wintery. Drink it almost nose to nose over a tiny table. Say thanks for all your mate has done for you this year.

Add your favorite inexpensive date night in the comments. A lot of people read this blog, and you might make their holidays.

November 13, 2011

When You First Met

What do you remember most about when you first met your husband or wife? Other than the physical attraction, what impressed you?

Was it his or her zest for living? Integrity? A great sense of humor? That love of learning? His or her leadership skills? Or sense of responsibility for the poor or the environment or the members of his or her team?

Was it surprising creativity? Great kindness or generosity? An ability to get along with everyone and talk easily with anyone?

Did you admire bravery in the face of danger? Awe in the face of natural beauty or great art? Modesty or piety?

Were you taken aback by his or her gratitude? Spirituality? Efforts for justice? Self-control and discipline?

Or was it the ability to persevere until each goal was met? Great curiosity about things and experiences? His or her open-mindedness? Wisdom that came with different perspectives on problems? Or enduring optimism in spite of setbacks or obstacles?

Are your lives set up to allow your partner in life to continue amazing you with this ability? Are they set up to allow you to impress your mate with your own?

November 11, 2011

Date Night Ideas for Geek Couples

Date nights can really help a couple with children or busy work schedules maintain the close and stimulating relationship of their dating days.

To get the most benefit from a date night, schedule it in advance and create souvenirs while you enjoy it. Both give you more opportunities to savor your time together. And savoring helps it compete better with your negative thoughts about your marriage when you are apart or at your wit's end.

Here are some ideas for geek date nights or date afternoons:

  • The free-admission Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington's Dulles Airport.

  • A concert or special show in a planetarium like the Adler in Chicago, Montgomery College, MD, University of Texas at Arlington, ECSU in Elizabeth City, NC, or the Sudekum in Nashville.

  • Buy the latest video game you both agree on and play it for the first time together, in a luxury hotel room or an inexpensive fall timeshare rental overlooking an ocean.

  • Spend an evening sharing your good thoughts for your spouse through the selection of video titles in your On Demand or Netflix menu.

  • Use some free online smart phone app creation tool to build an app for just the two of you, with your photos and a way to send each other kudos or kisses. Then go walk the boardwalk or take a hike in the woods, so you can phone each other while you have more fun together.

  • Cook a candlelight dinner for the two of you, starting with recipes from Cooking for Engineers. Can you borrow a pair of Bunsen burners or stick the candles in a pair of beakers?

The idea is to celebrate who you two are, to see each other at your best or delighted with something, and to create memories worth revisiting years from now. So, if you are not geeks, these are probably the wrong ideas for you. I hope, though, that they encourage you to picture the two of you immersed in whatever passions you share.

Please share with us any unusual date nights that brought joy to you and your partner in life. If the Comments form is not visible below, click on the title of this post to go to a page where it will be displayed.

October 23, 2011

Active, Constructive, Marriage-Strengthening

Help yourself to happier feelings. Tell your spouse about the positive events in your life. Accomplish a goal? Receive an award or promotion? Lose weight? Tell your spouse. Researcher Shelly Gable has found this pays off in increased well-being and a better mood.

You can take it to the next level and get greater well-being plus a more satisfying and stable relationship. How? Through active and constructive responses from your spouse.

That's active, not passive. No lame "uh-huh." No unenthusiastic "that's nice, honey." We're looking for a bit of enthusiasm and attention here.

And it's got to be constructive, not destructive. Changing the subject is destructive. So is pointing out there is a downside to this victory. Constructive is asking how your mate got the good news, how she or he felt at that moment. Constructive is listing the reasons why the good outcome was well-deserved and pointing out all the good things likely to follow from it.

How can you get such responses? Ask for them. Give them when your spouse has good news. Pay attention to your spouse's mood before you decide to share your good news. And don't downplay your own pleasure in your accomplishment or blessing.

October 11, 2011

When to Say No to Your Kids

Father kissing mother's head as she holds their newbornWhat an awesome responsibility, to become the parent of a child. When you have taken care of feeding them and protecting them from harm, you still want to give them all the love they need and all the advantages you can offer.

You teach them to walk, do homework with them, take them to soccer practice, pay for their SAT prep classes. You monitor their television time, show them how to hold a crayon, cook a dinner, and ride a bike.

But the most important thing you show them is how to be happily, respectfully, affectionately married. So, if baby massage class, violin lessons, rugby practice, and PTA keep you from spending needed time with your spouse, just say no.

It is truly the best advantage you can offer your kids.

June 21, 2011

Want More Encouragement from Your Husband?

Today, as I ate my salad for lunch, a couple was seated in the booth in front of me. Both were carrying way too many pounds, enough to make it difficult to walk.

The restaurant was the sort where every meal comes with enough calories for a family of four. Most of the food there is fried, covered with cheese, and accompanied by fries or a free dessert.

She ordered a salad. She was apparently dieting and ramping up her exercise levels for health reasons, and she wanted his encouragement and support. He was nearly silent, except for a few one-word answers. She kept trying. She tried through his cheese-topped chili, through his butter-grilled meat and cheese sandwich, through his mound of french fries, right through his free dessert.

Her timing was awful. I hope she did not leave the restaurant believing her husband does not care about her efforts to improve her health. More importantly, I hope she wanted the kudos she was asking for, not a change in his behavior. Her timing was bad for kudos and dreadful for a change.

Today's tip is this: if you want encouragement or a change in your husband's behavior that will make you happier, seek it when you can tap into his strengths, not when it will diminish his pleasure.

Her request for support in her self-moderation came across as criticism of his enjoyment of the meal. He could not share his enjoyment with her. She could not get the kudos she wanted, and she certainly could not convince him to join her in her health quest right in the middle of the meal he had chosen.

Does he do yardwork, swim, or play volleyball? She could look for feedback on her eating and exercising changes when he's fresh from doing something physical or when he's chosen grilled fish from a better menu.

Did she want to ask him to lose weight, too? She should just ask, directly. And do it while he's more inclined to find it a good idea he can commit to, like while he's changing out of a tight suit into something more comfortable or while they are planning a future event together, not while they are eating in calorie city.

Real encouragement makes a marriage stronger. Criticism makes it weaker. You will get better results if you seek encouragement when it will make both of you feel like better people.

May 5, 2011

Like What You're Reading?

Not many people have discovered the shortcut to see all 270 blog post titles with links to the articles. Just click on the Archives link right below the Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2010 badge on the right side of every page on the blog. Or, if you are reading this on Facebook or in an RSS feed reader, use the link in this post.

February 11, 2011

5 Unusual Tips for Enjoying Valentine's Day

Five ways to make Valentine's Day with your husband or wife better than ever:

  1. Recognize that giving chocolates or other gifts may not feel like a loving act to your spouse. It may feel a lot more like a chore. If he or she does it anyway, it's because doing chores for you feels like a loving act. Make the chore easier. Let your mate know what delights you: fancy wrappings, high quality chocolates, anything with pecans in it, or something that won't make you ask next week, "Does this outfit make my butt look big?"

  2. Come to terms with the awful truth that it's entirely possible to adore your wife or husband and not have a clue how to show it with words, even words written by someone at Hallmark. If you are married to a wordless wonder, write your own. Open up a beautiful blank card and start listing all the good times you two have spent together, all the gifts and kind acts you've received from your beloved, and all the physical delights you've experienced since last Valentine's Day.

  3. Put your top strengths to work on your invitation to your guy or gal to be your Valentine this year. Not only will it be a great way to say I love you, but it will make you feel great, and this is the greatest way of all to say it. Love to learn? Learn something that matters to your spouse. Good leader? Organize your family or neighborhood friends to make February 14th a delight for her or him. Big time optimist? Take the time to write out every delightful detail of a future scenario that would tickle you both and take the first step toward it. Great at persevering until you get that project out the door? Tackle one for your mate, due date 2/14.

  4. If you prefer respect to romantic love, break the news to your wife or husband before the big day. All the commercial options for Valentine's Day focus on romantic love, and it's not likely to occur to your spouse that what you really want is to know you and your efforts are truly respected unless you say so. But wouldn't it be great to hear or read?

  5. If you're dining out this Valentine's Day, prepare for it. Write a poem if you're any good at it. Put on your most alluring clothes. Do whatever you need to do to feel unrushed. Prepare in advance to talk about something other than the kids and your job or what's gone wrong in your home. If you're dieting, eat gently until then, so you need not say no to anything you both enjoy on this one night. And give some advance thought to making this dinner especially playful or romantic, whichever suits the two of you.

May your Valentine's Day be the best ever. Comments, Valentine's Day reports, and more unusual tips are most welcome.

December 16, 2010

Assume Love in Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2010!

Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2010Thank you, thank you, all you wonderful Assume Love readers, for voting this blog as one of the Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2010. What a great honor. You are the best readers a gal could ask for. I will work hard to bring you even better content in 2011.

And a big thank you to Stu Gray, The Marry Blogger, for creating this top ten list to highlight all the wonderful free help available on the internet to married folks and those thinking of getting married. You are never alone in dealing with whatever comes up in your relationship. There is always someone who can help.

December 3, 2010

45 Marvelous Marriage Blogs and a Chance to Vote

Best Marriage Blog NomineeAssume Love is one of 45 finalists for the Marry Blogger Top 10 Marriage Blogs of 2010 list. Voting continues through December 14th.

While I hope your vote will go to Assume Love (#37 on the list), you may want to check out the rest of the finalists, too. Some of my other favorites include:

Project Happily Ever After, the story of Alisa Bowman, who was almost out the door when she found her way back and discovered what it takes to enjoy being married

Better Husbands and Fathers, with lots of tips from Eric for date nights and learning to be a great dad

The Power of Two, a wonderful accompaniment to Dr. Susan Heitler's great book on communication in marriage

And, of course, The Marry Blogger, Stu Gray's blog on how to have a stupendous marriage, which is not on the list because it's his list

My thanks to Stu for rounding up so many great blogs about marriage and to you for voting for Assume Love by December 14th, if you will be so kind.

September 19, 2010

What's Your Love Language?

Which of these would you most appreciate from your husband or wife?

  • An hour-long massage

  • A dreaded chore done for you

  • A gift to use in one of your hobbies

  • A very special date night together

  • A heartfelt love letter or song

August 14, 2010

Marriage, Communication, and Oxytocin

Better communication seems to occur in less stressful marriages. But are you sure which one causes which?

Those couples who communicate better experience less stress (as measured by cortisol in their saliva) while discussing a difficult topic. But when you give randomly selected couples a squirt of oxytocin nasal spray in a relationship lab, they communicate better than the couples who don't receive it. They don't report feeling any less stressed, but their cortisol levels say they are, and that's what matter to the health of their heart and other organs.

So where can you get some of this oxytocin? You secrete it from your pituitary. It's the size of a pea and located at the base of your brain, but you don't need to stick a probe in your brain to tell it to start producing more.

When you feel a wave of warm, positive feelings, you will know you have found the switch. Alcohol is an off switch, substituting its own wave of warm, positive feelings for the one that helps communication. The on switches? Orgasm is an oxytocin releaser for both sexes. So is genital stimulation, even without orgasm. Stroking of the skin works well, too, and the more you produce, the more enjoyable touching gets.

So perhaps those happy couples who communicate so well are reaping the dual benefits of the language of touch. It's good for the heart.

December 3, 2008

Don't Wait to Have Fun with Your Mate

"'Don't wait until your kids leave home to schedule quality time with your partner,' said UC Berkeley psychology professor Oliver John" in today's UC Berkeley News.

He and fellow researchers Ravenna Helson and Sara Gorchoff conducted interviews with 100 women starting when they were seniors at Mills College in 1958.

They might also have added, "Don't wait for Prince Charming."

[T]ypical of their generation...84 percent married before age 25 and 30 percent divorced by age 45. In some cases, the increased marital satisfaction they found later in life was due to finding more compatible partners after divorcing. Overall, however, the study found the marital satisfaction of women who stayed with the same partners increased significantly while the boost in contentment for those with new partners was not notable.

November 21, 2008

Is Yours a Great Marriage?

Here's a great quote from Jim Collins' book Good to Great that applies even more to marriages than to the businesses he writes about:

"Get involved in something that you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you will get, but just because it can be done."

Most of us start out this way, vowing to keep at it through richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, forsaking all others. We lose our way when we pay attention to what we are getting at this point in our shared history.

What's your picture of greatness for your marriage?

September 21, 2008

How to Enjoy Being Married for 80 Years

Wishing a happy 80th anniversary today to Clyde and Marie Barnes, and thank to Salt Lake's Channle 5, KSL-TV, for letting us know what Marie says is the secret to their success.

"We just try to love what the other one does and do it together. If he suggests something, I try to go along with it. And if I suggest something, he seems to do the same."

Sounds to me like Marie listens to Clyde's suggestions as if he still loves her and wants the best for her, and vice versa. It's a great way to live.

KSL-TV adds

They also say you can't forget the second staple of a successful marriage: a sense of humor.

That's what Mark Gungor says, too. He's worth checking out. So is his Flag Page.

April 12, 2007

I've Apologized Enough

Don Imus says he's "apologized enough" for his sexist, racist comment about the Rutgers Womens Basketball team. How many husbands and wives have you heard say the same thing?

Imus will have apologized enough when the state of his relationship is acceptable to him. And he hasn't yet tried the step most likely to rebuild it.

A husband or wife is fortunate to have just one relationship to repair after a particularly hurtful act. Don Imus has many. Here's how he might go about mending those relationships instead of bitterly accepting their end.

Continue reading "I've Apologized Enough" »

The Author

Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

Follow Us

Enjoy Being Married

The Best Marriage Bloggers
2011 Hot Marriage Blog Award - Liufu Yu |
Grow Your Marriage Award 2011 from The Generous Wife
Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2011
Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2010


Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
TM Assume Love is trademark of Patricia L. Newbold